I wonder if the folks who should be closely listening to Sheriff Dupnik's sage advice and wisdom will do so...
We are learning more details about The Arizona Massacre and Gabrielle Giffords' would be assassin Jared Loughner. For me, this is a difficult issue to write about because the factors leading to Saturday's shootings seem so utterly obvious. Given the Right-wing rage machine, the Conservative imagination's fetish for guns, and a bomb-throwing approach that mates a rhetoric of "real Americans" with a smearing of President Obama as a "Socialist" and a "tyrant," political violence of this scale was a matter of "when" and not "if."
Because of a reluctance to revisit already well-trotted territory, I may or may not post my essay on The Arizona Massacre. So much has been offered on the topic already--much of it far better than I could. To point, the following piece from the Guardian UK is a provocative exploration of the connections between the Arizona Massacre and the Right-wing political imagination.
It was instructive to read elected Republicans' official statements in response to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting for what they did not say. The House Speaker, John Boehner, said: "An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured and their families. This is a sad day for our country." Arizona Senator John McCain issued the following: "I am horrified by the violent attack on representative Gabrielle Giffords and many other innocent people by a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion. I pray for Gabby and the other victims, and for the repose of the souls of the dead and comfort for their families. Whoever did this, whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race."
All well and good, and I have no doubt every word is sincere. But you'll note that they are silent on the question of the violent rhetoric that emanates from the rightwing of American society. You don't have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday.
Is he a nut? Of course he's a nut. By definition, anyone who shoots innocent people like that has a screw loose. But nuts come in many varieties. There are some who think Dick Cheney planned 9/11, others who believe the CIA has installed eavesdropping devices in their fillings, and still others who insist they're the reincarnation of Mary Queen of Scots. So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don't have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that "you don't have to accept the federalist laws". He called a female classmate who had an abortion a "terrorist".
In sum, he had political ideas, which not everyone does. Many of them (not all, but most) were right wing. He went to considerable expense and trouble to shoot a high-profile Democrat, at point-blank range right through the brain. What else does one need to know? For anyone to attempt to insist that the violent rhetoric so regularly heard in this country had no likely effect on this young man is to enshroud oneself in dishonesty and denial.
I would like to report to you that my nation is in shock, and that we will work together to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. Alas, neither of these things is close to true. Of course an event like this is hard to believe in the moment; but in the context of our times, it's really not surprising at all. Last summer, a California man armed himself and set off for San Francisco with the express intent of killing liberals at a nonprofit foundation that had been pilloried by Glenn Beck and others. Only the lucky accident of his arrest en route for drunk driving prevented the mayhem then.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has documented more than two dozen killings by or arrests of rightwing extremists who intended to do serious political violence since 2008. One Tennessee man killed two worshippers at a liberal church, regretting only that he had not been able to ice the 100 liberals named by author Bernard Goldberg as those most responsible for destroying America. Giffords herself received threats after voting for the healthcare reform bill, and shots were fired through the window of her district office. An event like this has been coming for a long time.
As to the future, some things will change, at least for a while. Sarah Palin will be deeply diminished by this. Speaking about the now well-known cross-hairs imagery over the map of Giffords' congressional district on Palin's website, Giffords herself last year expressed concern about "consequences". Palin pooh-poohed this at the time. Her unctuous and hypocritical "prayer" for Giffords and the other victims will mollify only those who think she can do no wrong. But in general, this hastens that blessed day when we no longer have to pay attention to her self-serving lies and idiocies.
Republicans and even Tea Partiers will have the sense – again, for a while – to steer clear of directly gun-related rhetoric. We won't be hearing much in the near term about "second amendment remedies" and insurrection and so forth. But this will be temporary. Guns are simply too central to the mythology of the American right, as is the idea of liberty being wrested from tyrants only at gunpoint. For the American right to stop talking about armed insurrection would be like American liberals dropping the subjects of race and gender. It's too encoded in conservative DNA.
In addition, contemporary American conservatism has been utterly arrested by this ridiculous paranoid fantasy that our government is a tyranny. Here was Republican Congressman Paul Broun of Georgia, speaking in Washington last April on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing: "Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the constitution, and they're right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States – and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us. It's not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It's not about the ability for me to protect my family and property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it's all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government." The year before, this same Broun singled out then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, as one such "domestic enemy of the constitution". He was re-elected last November with 67% of the vote.
This kind of rhetoric will go into hibernation now, but only for a bit. Because not only is it too central to rightwing mythology; it is central to Republican electoral strategy. This is one of those things that no one says, because it can't really and truly be proved forensically, but everyone knows. Get people to hate liberals. Get them to think not only that liberals have ideas for the country that are wrong – get them to believe that liberals despise the country and are actively attempting to hasten its demise. Say progressivism isn't just invalid or even dangerous, but "evil" and a "cancer," as Glenn Beck says. Fear gets people to the ballot box.
Direct responsibility for what happened Saturday? No. Mentally ill people are mentally ill. The Beatles weren't responsible for the messages that Charles Manson heard in their music. But there's a difference. Paul McCartney had no earthly reason to think that an innocent song about a fairground ride (Helter Skelter) would lead a man to commit barbarous acts of murder. Today's Republicans and conservative commentators, however, surely understand the fire they're playing with. But they do it, and a tragedy like Saturday's won't stop them, as long as they can maintain a phoney plausible deniability and as long as hate continues to pay dividends at the ballot box.